What To Do When Your Car Overheats

When your car engine overheats, it can cause damage to the engine and potentially lead to a breakdown. In this article, we cover what can cause an engine to overheat and what to do next. 

What causes the car engine to overheat?

There are many potential causes for a car engine to overheat. One possibility is that the water pump is not circulating the coolant correctly. The radiator might also be blocked, preventing the coolant from doing its job. The thermostat might be stuck in the closed position, or there could be a leak in the cooling system.

What to do when my car is overheating?

The first thing to do when you notice your car is overheating is to NOT PANIC. If you notice that the temperature gauge warning light is illuminated on the dashboard and there is steam (often looks like smoke) coming from the bonnet, the safest thing to do is pull over at the side of the road when it is safe to do so.

If you cannot pull over quickly, then one of the tactics to help reduce the heat in the engine bay is to switch on the heater which will draw the heat from the engine and into the passenger compartment. You can also try opening all the windows which may help with cooling it down to some extent. 

The important thing is to let the engine cool down and this can take about 15-30 minutes. If the steaming is not too severe, you could potentially open the bonnet to let some of the heat out – but do so only if you’re confident the bonnet is not too hot. 

Once the engine has been left to cool down, you can remove the coolant tank cap which is near the radiator (preferably with safety gloves) to check the coolant level. DO NOT in any circumstance attempt to open the cap when the engine is still hot as this can result in severe burns. If the coolant level is low, then refilling with some coolant, if handy or fairly accessible, can help you get back on the road without calling for a breakdown service. If there is still coolant in the tank then it could be a more serious or mechanical problem that will need professional attention at which point it would be a good idea to call for help. 

Will adding coolant help with an overheating engine?

​​If the car is overheating, it is likely that the coolant level is low. The coolant level can be checked by looking at the expansion tank under the bonnet of the car. Be sure to do this only once the engine is completely cooled down. 

If the coolant level is low, add coolant to the overflow tank and restart the engine. The coolant may help to lower the engine temperature if the overheating is due to a low coolant level, but it will not fix the root cause of the overheating.

If the engine continues to overheat, it is likely that there is a problem with the cooling system and the car should be taken to a mechanic to avoid any further engine damage. 

Can you drive a car that is overheating?

It is never a good idea to drive an overheated car, as it could cause lasting damage to your engine and could result in you spending more on repairs in the long run. It’s always safer to pull over as soon as you experience symptoms of an overheating engine and wait till it’s sorted out before attempting to drive the vehicle again. 

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